|Ripe berries on Beautyberry (Photo: Nicole Elmer)|
Around this time of year, this shrub is difficult to miss. The normally inconspicuous green berries turn bright purple and become quite popular for wild bird and animal populations. This plant’s scientific name is Callicarpa americana, or better known as the Beautyberry or American Beautyberry.
The shrub is native to the southeastern states of the US, including parts of Texas, as well as areas of Mexico and the Caribbean, specifically Cuba, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. It grows between four to eight feet, sometimes up to nine feet if the conditions are favorable. It is tolerant of differing soil types and drier conditions, although the plant will drop immature berries and leaves and during hard drought. It also can grow in different light conditions, although the plant will be larger in sunnier locations with enough water.
Humans can eat the berries, and they have a gin-like or medicinal flavor. However, they are astringent and can cause a stomach ache. Historically, some indigenous populations used the root and leaf in sweat baths for rheumatism, fever, and malaria. Root tea was used for digestive ailments such as dysentery and stomach aches. Folk remedies claim that crushing and rubbing the leaves against one’s clothing or skin can act as a deterrent to biting insects like mosquitos. This might have to do with the chemical compound in the plant, callicarpenal, which has been an effective mosquito repellent in lab experiments.
|A large and healthy Beautyberry. (Photo: Nicole Elmer)|
At Brackenridge Field Lab, they occur throughout the area. They are most commonly seen in the quarry zone, the place where limestone was mined to create the disastrous Austin Dam in the late 1800s.
You might have seen a beauty berry with white berries. These are a cultivar of the plant, called “Lactea” or “Alba.” They are rare in nature, but are more commonly cultivated for the purposes of landscaping.